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Please Take My Call…

For many people in the profession of sales today, the job of prospecting to set up a meeting is about as exciting as a trip to the dentist.  (And more painful too!)  Although the art of prospecting into accounts is imperative to the success of so many salespeople, it is the number three skill that most say that they need help with right behind closing and time management!  As salespeople, we face a myriad of screens and gatekeepers that make our jobs much more difficult than we would like.

In fact, because of all of the non-professionals out there trying to make a living doing a horrible job on the phone, the prospective buyers of their service need to be hiding.  There are few of us who work the phones for sales or for appointments regularly that have ever received appropriate training in these areas.  The companies that hire us work by the philosophy of “Hire ‘em in masses-and kick ‘em in the asses!” We deserve what we get when our prospects hide behind voice mail, e-mail, and other gatekeepers.

As a matter of fact, as consumers, we have become so accustomed to the phone selling (or appointment setting) process being a bad one, we do the very things to those who call us after work that we loathe about those to whom we call during work.  Think about it!  A telemarketer calls you on a Saturday morning and starts to immediately go into a canned pitch for their product or service.  How long before you cut them off to tell them you are not interested?  How many of these calls do you take before you start simply hanging up on them mid-sentence or avoiding the interactions altogether by letting them go to voice mail?  And why do you do this?  The number one reason:  You’re afraid that they are going to waste your time.

Even though the caller on the other end of the line may have had a very valuable offering for you, it was the approach of several others before them that sabotaged their chances.  Do you ever feel this way when you are calling on your prospective customers?  Although you may have an incredible offer for them and their company, one that could save them time, make them money, put peace of mind to their fears, and/or make their lives easier, you don’t get a chance to talk about it because they won’t take your call!  Why?  Because they are afraid they you are going to waste their time!

When you are calling on prospective buyers of your products and services, be aware that they have become conditioned to the same fears that you have.  Knowing this, make sure that you either address these fears in your opening words or the voice mail that you leave.  State clearly the purpose for your call and keep concise the information about YOU and YOUR COMPANY.  Instead focus on them and their issues.

When leaving a voice mail, imagine that the person that you are calling will receive thirty or more calls from a salesperson like yourself today.  However, she will only return ONE of those calls?  Why should it be yours?  Keep the focus to only these three areas:

1-The Main Benefit of owning your product/service

2-How Your Product/Service will cure their pain, put peace of mind to their fear

help them reach a desired goal.

3-How easy it will be to accomplish all of this.

These things need to be communicated in a way that it grabs the attention of the prospect quickly and communicates that you will not waste their time, either on the phone or in a meeting.  It is very important that you are armed with examples stating that you have done these things for and with others (assuming that you have) but equally important that you do not go into exactly how you have done these things.  You need to leave some of the mystery on for the meeting itself and not allow the prospective buyer to make decisions based upon partial information form a phone conversation.

How do I say this in a simple manner?  The purpose of a sales prospecting call is to make a sale.  However, that sale is often that of getting an appointment and nothing else.  In order to get that appointment, (or whatever the next step might be) you need to speak primarily to the main motivators of the prospective customer.

They are only tuned into one radio station and that is WII-FM-What’s In It For Me?  It’s about Return on Investment. (ROI) Speak to them about what RETURN they will receive from the INVESTMENT in time that they make in listening to you on the phone and seeing you in person.  Focus on them and not on you and you will have a better shot of getting through.

Assume Nothing!

The Top Ten Assumptions That Can (And Do!) Kill Sales Careers

assumptions blog photo

In today’s marketplace where there is more access to information, more knowledge about pricing and competition, and quite frankly, more choices for your prospects, customers, and clients, salespeople need to make all the right moves…ALL THE TIME!  Here at Sales Coach International, we are carrying around the banner that says “Assume Nothing.”  In order to illustrate the importance of this, here are the top ten assumptions that salespeople can make that can kill their career:

  1. Features Sell–  Salespeople of today go out into the marketplace and spew the many features of the products and services that they offer.  We call this “Showing up and Throwing Up!”  The people that buy your products/svcs. do not do so because of the features that your product/svc offers but rather the benefits that those features can bring to them.  Here is a solid drill for you.  Write this down:

“NOBODY WANTS TO BUY WHAT I’M SELLING!!”

Now that we have established that the customer doesn’t want to buy the bells and whistles that your product/svc offers, stop assuming that they will draw the line between what your product/svc offers and what it is that they need.  So how do we do this?  It’s easy:  At the end of every feature statement you need to bridge to the next statement with

“….so what that means to you is this!”

What comes out of your mouth next is the benefit statement that truly is the motivation for your customer or prospect to buy!  Don’t assume that your prospects, customers, or clients will know how to tie the two together without your help!

  1. Everyone Loves Small Talk– There have been many books written on the value of building rapport with a prospect, customer, or clients in order to gain their trust. While I agree with this, I find that too many salespeople feel that every sales interaction needs to start with the obligatory round of small talk about the weather, sports, recent news, or some other plastic nonsense.  Why is this?  It is my belief that salespeople do this for their own comfort only.

There is undoubtedly a need for some training in this area.  Small talk is just that:  Small Talk!  This type of banter is typically teed up so that the salesperson can gain some insight as to the mood, needs, style, and interests of the prospect, customer, or client.  However, it has its place.  Realize when getting down to business is necessary.  Realize when the person on the other end is faking it along with you and have the presence of mind to move on to the business at hand.

Once you have established some sort of relationship with a prospect, customer, or client (whether that is after a few minutes or a few months) the conversations should revolve around the things that they want to address, not the other way around!  Remember, the best way to get them to trust you is to get them talking about themselves, their issues, their challenges, their stuff!  If you still feel the need to have some initial banter before getting down to business, make sure it is about something that is important to them.

Don’t know what that is?  Here’s a suggestion:  Go out right now and buy “Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive” by Harvey Mackay.  In this book you will find The Mackay 66.  These are 66 individual points that sales reps of  Mackay Envelope were to find out about their prospects, customers, and/or clients.  With even 50% of this information, you could not help but have A) a strong relationship with this person and B) many topics with which to focus your attention and conversation during the sales process.

Most importantly, do not assume that you need to “tenderize the meat before you throw it into the skillet!”  Salespeople work very hard to get the attention of their prospects, customers, and clients regularly.  Once you have earned it, don’t spend too much of your time (and theirs) on non-relevant issues.

  1. Your Time Frame is the Same as Your Customer’s- I have seen countless salespeople spend many hours doing all of the things necessary to get a meeting with a prospect or customer. Once the meeting is set, they prepare a great value proposition and present their case very well.  In the best of these circumstances, they indeed find a prospect or customer interested in potentially pursuing some future possibility of doing business with them. (How was that for a bland, non-committal statement)  The meeting ends with everyone somewhat enthusiastic about the potential of doing something together.  Now…fast-forward a couple of weeks.  Your calls are not being returned!  Your e-mails aren’t either.  You are ready to move forward but the prospect has dropped off the face of the earth.  You have already counted this one as a top-level opportunity and told everyone it was in the bag.  What the heck happened?

One of the biggest assumptions that I see salespeople making in the field today is that the customer has the same interest in buying from you that you have in selling to him/her.  It needs to be understood that a customer does things for their reasons, not yours!  However, if those reasons (their motivators) are not discussed during the initial meeting, the salesperson has little to re-address the customer with when reviving interest later in the sales cycle.  In other words, we cannot assume that the customer will make all the right moves to buy from us at the speed and rate, which we choose.  Therefore, we need to ask appropriate questions to gauge and perhaps even set the customer’s urgency.

  1. All of Your Accounts Love You!-This is one of the most dangerous assumptions that can be made in today’s marketplace.  Yet there are salespeople out there that are taking their customer’s loyalty for granted even as you read this!  Think about what it is that you do for a living.  As a sales professional, part of your business life is dedicated to continually calling on and trying to capture part of the marketshare of your competitors.  You are continually introducing yourself and your company to the customers that are currently doing business with your competitors.  As a result, you are looking for a few of them to turn a cheating eye toward you and your company to “give you a shot” at earning their business.

Here is a news flash for you: 

Your competition is doing the same thing with your customers as you read this….and they just might be better at it than you!!

Therefore, we, as salespeople can never take our customer’s business for granted.  We need to be continually looking for ways to add value, over-deliver, and strengthen our relationships.  Here is a great drill:  Imagine that this scenario will follow every interaction that you have with your existing customers or clients:  One hour after you leave their office, they will be in a room with 100 of your top prospects.  What do you want them to be saying!!

  1. Your Customer Will Refer You To Others– Referrals to new prospective business from happy customers are one of the hallmarks of sales success that we all strive for as sale professionals. However, too many salespeople assume that their customers will automatically think of them, and then subsequently refer them when the opportunity presents itself.  WRONG!!  How many times have we wished for more referrals from our customers?  How many times have we hoped that the customer will think of us when they are networking with their colleagues?  Below, please find my Big 5 Rules for getting constant streams of referrals:
  • You must ASK for them—A lot!!
  • You must EARN the right to ask for them by over-delivering!
  • You must make it easy to refer!
  • You must professionally follow up on every referral!
  • Say Thank You!! (In different ways each time!)

If you make all of the right moves, a customer should turn into a raving fan for you and your company.  However, even the word should states there is an assumption.  So, leave nothing to chance and earn the right to ask, make it easy to refer, follow up on every one, and thank your customer from the bottom of your heart.  The best of the best in the field of sales realize that every great customer is worth several more great customers.  But, like everything else, it rarely happens on auto-pilot!

  1. Customers are Impressed With Your Knowledge– Zig Ziglar said it best when he said “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!” One of the biggest faults of salespeople today is confusing the need to tell with the desire to sell.  Although there is a time to develop your prospect, customer, and client’s trust in you based upon your knowledge, that time is later in the process once other issues have been addressed.

As a buyer yourself, how impressed are you with all of the techno-babble that some salespeople feel they must subject you to?  Does this info draw you in or push you away?   Are you impressed with the salesperson who tells you what he/she knows or works (through questions) to find out what it is that you need?

Don’t assume that the buyer needs all the info that you possess.  Instead, find out what they need, and then meet those needs.

  1. My Product/Service Meets All of My Prospect’s Needs– We’d all love to think so, but that isn’t so!  Our product or service may not meet the needs or desires of the prospects, customers or clients that we are addressing today.  Sometimes the answer is no!  Sometimes they don’t qualify!  Sometimes, we don’t qualify!  Sometimes, there is no match!

Try this as a drill:  Start every initial meeting to introduce a new idea, product, or service with a variation of this statement:

“It is very important to us that we have a solid match with the companies or people that we do business with. Therefore, after reviewing your company’s needs, if it appears that we don’t have a fit, on your part or our’s, I will get out of your hair…time is money!  However, if, after an appropriate mutual assessment, it appears that we do have a match…AND, DUE TO INITIAL RESEARCH,  I THINK WE MIGHT, then I will show you how we can ___________________,” then I might ask you to explore with me how we may do business together today.  Is that fair?

If, after this initial discovery period, you discover that your prospects needs can not be met or are not consistent with what your company can and will provide, then your duty as a professional is to walk away.  If it appears, however, that you do have a potential fit, it is incumbent upon you as a sales professional to design a value proposition that will meet their highest value needs and lead them to the decision to do business with you. (Yes, this is the time to close!)

  1. The Customer Never Changes– In the past couple of years, many salespeople have been facing the changing of the guard inside their client companies. The person with whom they had the strong relationship suddenly has been let go, replaced, or has left the company.  In some instances, management makes the change in such positions because of the relationships that exist, thus making sure that all vendors are getting a shot.

I have seen many salespeople lose some of their bigger accounts because of these things.  What do we learn from this?  E—X—P—A—N—D your circle of influence within you accounts.  Get to know more than one contact or purchaser within the account.  Take an entire department out to lunch.  Ask to meet others within the company.  Earn your way into the doors of others.  Become a valued resource to many levels of the company.  Earn your way into the top offices and meet the decision makers.  Send thank you notes to everyone.  Make sure the buzz in that company regarding your service or product is about YOU!!  Don’t assume that your customer will never change…just be better prepared for when it happens!

  1. The Customer is Interested in My Issues– I read an interesting analogy recently in a book entitled “How to Become a Rainmaker” by Jeffery Fox.  The analogy was about a babysitter.  He stated there are two basic rules that a babysitter should follow.  The first rule states that no matter how much trouble the kids gave you while the parents were away, keep it to yourself.  When the parents come home after a much needed night away from the children and ask, “How were they?” the answer is always “Great-No problems!”  Rule number two states that the babysitter should leave the house a little cleaner than they found it.  Making sure that these two rules are followed should assure that the babysitter will have a repeat engagement with that family.  Why? Because she sells a relaxed evening and a clean house (Benefits!)

How does this relate to sales?  Once a customer hires you to do a job (create a solution), they don’t want to hear your problems about getting it done.  They don’t care!  Do a great job, do it on time, do it on budget, don’t complain, and give the customer a little extra.  This is the blueprint for customer satisfaction.

Your prospects, customers and clients don’t want to buy what you are selling! (Remember that from above?) In fact, they don’t care much about you at all.  They don’t care about your sales contests, your problems with traffic, your personal issues, or why your shipments are late.  They only care about themselves and their problems.  You are in front of them only because they believe that you might be able to help better their situation.  You are there by invitation only.  It is your duty to focus only on the customer. You must be on “high receive!”   You are there to ask questions about them, their issues, their pains, their fears, their desires, and their highest value needs.  And you are there to listen!!  Be very conscious of making sure that most of your sentences have a “you” in them rather than an “I.”  Never assume that they want to hear about you and your issues!

  1. Your Research Will Give You All The Ammo You Need­In today’s information filled world, it is much easier for the sales professional to gain access to vital data before meeting the prospect or customer. The best salespeople do a thorough amount of research to get well armed to fight the battle with the customer.  However, what you do (or don’t do) with that information is imperative to the sales call.

The fact that you have access to a lot of information does not negate your need, as a sales professional, to do a very thorough needs analysis with your prospect or customer on the sales call.  In fact, our experience has shown us that often times, the information discovered during the initial research is incorrect or outdated.  But besides that, lets remember one of the main reasons that we ask questions throughout the sales process is to show the prospect, customer, or client that we are focused on them and their needs. The questions will show them that we care.

We have all heard the old adage regarding “keeping a few cards up your sleeve.”  This is very appropriate in regards to pre-meeting info.  Knowledge truly is power if it is used appropriately.  Remember, the best source for the things that we truly need to know is the person or persons with whom you will be striking the deal.  Never assume that you don’t need to ask!

Be careful with these assumptions people.  Make sure that you go into every sales encounter prepared to make all of the right moves and do not get bogged down with assumptions such as these.  Many of us need to go back to our roots as junior salespeople and “Be just Dumb Enough (or is that Smart Enough) to assume nothing.”

 

Focus Precedes Success (Part 2)

There are a handful of common things on which top salespeople put their focus regularly. I have picked out three of these areas for this article so that my readers can get started (or continue) putting their constant attention where they need to:

This is Part II in a three part series about FOCUS for Salespeople

II—Begin with the End in Mind
Stephen Covey introduced us to this habit in his book entitled “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” It is my belief that when a salesperson focuses on what the end result looks and feels like in any sales cycle, he/she will navigate the seas with a stronger purpose.

Note: Beginning with the end in mind is about the results that the customer gets with the use of your product or service and NOT about simply making a sale!!

This area of focus backs up what I wrote about Pre Call Preparation in my last post but it also requires that you start with a vision and a goal. So, if we are to take a look at three areas of dialogue on which top sellers focus their sales process, they would be:

1-A Look Back over Your Shoulder-(What got us to this point?)
2-A Current Overview (What is the “State of affairs?”)
3-What do you Want to be When you Grow Up? (What is the vision of the ideal future?)

This format allows us to “frame up” the things that got the prospective buyer to where they are and to define the things that are necessary to get them where they want to go. Again, it starts with understanding the past and current situation and then defining the path (with the customer) to the previously defined (and mutually desired) result.

As a salesperson, I often looked at the entire sales cycle as a series of gates that needed to be entered and closed before we could move to the next. Once a gate was closed, then we could proceed to the next step. I believed, as I still do (and teach), that every step of the sales cycle must have two clear things:

1-A clear PURPOSE for the call (as mentioned in my previous post) and
2-A clear

—you can’t always CLOSE the sale, but you have to always close the next step.

The difference that I have found between top producers and most other salespeople is that they define the END of their sales cycle differently. Most salespeople think that the final stage is when the contract is CLOSED. Top Salespeople feel that the sales cycle is not complete until they have received their TENTH referral from the client. This is based upon results! This one difference changes the strategy on most of the sales calls and changes the preparation and value-add initiatives on every interaction of the sales cycle!

Next blog post on FOCUS addresses the need for Constant Forward Motion—don’t miss it!

How to save time on every sales call

We’ve been looking at time management, and a big part of your day is the sales call, so let’s take a closer look at how to prepare for a more time-efficient sales call.

I’ve asked the question before: “What’s the purpose of this call?”

If you don’t have that question answered, in writing, the chances are, your call is not going to get the desired results — because you don’t know what they are. If you’re clear on your purpose, you’re going to be more focused on your sales call.

More focused on your sales call is better for you and your customer, because he wants this time-management stuff too. Because sales people take up his time. Asking yourself about the purpose of this call helps you design better questions.

To design better questions, you write them down.

You write them down, you practice them.

You practice them, then you are better at them.

You ask them better, they get answers.

They get the right answers, and they get the right answers the first time.

The right answers the first time give you more knowledge.

Read more

Questions for your sales call, part 3

Continuing our series on the questions you must consider on every sales call, we come to where:
•    Where should I focus my efforts?
•    Should there be any dialing?
•    Might it be networking?
•    Might it be in generating referrals from my existing clients?
•    Where should I focus these prospects that I’m trying to get to give me a call back?
•    Where should I focus their efforts?
•    Where am I going to focus mine?
•    Where am I going to focus my customer’s attention?

It’s all about prospecting: How visible are you to your marketplace? Where do they know your name from? Where do they know your face? Are you visible to them?

Read more

Asking the right questions, part 2

Continuing our mini-series on your six best friends – the five W’s and H:

When you’re going to make a sales call, you must be clear on the purpose of your call. What is the main message?

You may have about 4,000 words teed up, but they’re going to hear about five. So what’s that main message? What do you want them to remember when they hang up?

If you can’t identify it, chances of you communicating it are weak. So then you ask yourself another what: What will grab their attention?

Let’s think A I D A, the old marketing formula.

“A”, attention, what will grab their attention?
“I”, what will create the interest? The interest in our company the interest in me, so that …
“D”, the desire is there to potentially do the…
“A”, to create the action that I am looking for.

What will grab their attention? Do you think it will be something about you or something about them?

What will pique their interest? Do you think it’s something about you and your company, or something about them and theirs?

Read more

Planning your sales call – and asking the right questions

If you’re a true sales professional, you take six of your best friends with you on all of your prospecting efforts.  They go with you before, during, and after, and they live with you. They are:
•    Mr. Who
•    Mr. Why
•    Mr. What
•    Mr. When
•    Mr. How
•    Mr. Where.

Let’s start with who.
•    Who are you calling?
•    Who are they?
•    Who are they in the decision-making process?
•    Who are you going to reference when you call to make that person somewhat interested in taking your call?
•    Who’s important to your success?
•    Who’s an influencer on your success?
•    Who are the decision makers?
•    Who are you going to engage with?
Read more

Four magic questions

Preparation before the sales call is the focus on today’s 10 Days of Christmas resolution for next year.

There are four questions that, when asked internally (and answered) before every call on a prospect, customer, or client, yield greater connections, greater calls, and thus, greater sales and profits.

What are these magic four questions?

1.    What is the purpose of this call? Seems like a simple question doesn’t it?  In fact, I ask this question repeatedly to salespeople every year on ride-alongs and field observations.  The most common answer that I get is, “The purpose of this call is to make a sale.”  Now, although I agree that the purpose of the sales cycle is create a customer and a profit, the purpose of every sales call is NOT to make a sale.  In fact, when one thinks that the purpose of every call is to make a sale, the conversations tend to be focused on the product, not the customer.

2.    What do we know? Another simple question designed to help us to identify and inventory the information that we have about the prospect, customer, or client and their current situation, needs, structure, buying process, etc.  We cannot send in salespeople half-cocked with little-to-no information about the account anymore.  In fact, especially in the B2B sales world, there is NO EXCUSE today for a salesperson to be under-prepared for a sales call.

3.    What do we need to know? This list is easy to make and yet rarely created in advance.  There are a variety of things that we need to uncover and discover throughout the sales process and if we understand in advance what these are, chances of making sure we cover all of these bases is better.

4.    What do we need to get “out on the table?” The answers to why someone buys come from their motivations.  Those motivations are often hidden and rarely offered up voluntarily by the prospect, customer, or client.  With the proper focus and questions, however, they will often come up in the conversation.  It is very important to get these motives “out on the table” from the other party because when they say it, it is fact!  When you say it, it is suspect because you have an agenda — to make a sale.

Action Step

Create a process by which you will have to answer these four questions out loud or in writing before every sales call on the phone or in person.  Once these four questions (and subsequent and answers) become part of your routine/your habit before each and every call, you cannot help but win more often!   Challenge a colleague or your manager to hold you accountable for solid answers to these questions.

This is the NUMBER ONE thing you can do to be more effective in 2010!

Photo by billaday, via Creative Commons 2.0

Seven extra minutes preparing for every sales call this year

As we continue our 10 Days of Christmas countdown — and 10 resolutions for the new year — remember this truth:  Time spent preparing for the sales call creates the success of the sales call.

This has been my contention for years, and it’s more true than ever in today’s challenging selling environment. Many salespeople are getting fewer opportunities than ever.  Thus it is even more important to build the habit of thorough pre-call preparation before every call.

Whether you sell over the telephone or in person, the majority of the pre-call preparation needs to be focused on the value you will bring from the point of view of the customer.

The word to focus on is “THINK!”

Idea:  As we head into the beginning of a New Year, it is an opportune time for you to have deeper conversations with your customers about their goals for the upcoming calendar year.  A great way to engage the customer might be something like this: “Help me understand what it is that you MOST want to accomplish in the upcoming year?”

Action Step

List a series of topics (and corresponding questions) that you would like to see covered on each of your sales calls.  Where would you like to see the conversation go?  What answers from the customer would best help you build your case of value?

In my experience, if you do not decide in advance where YOU want to go, then the customer will often take you to where THEY want to go… and too often that means discussing price!

Photo by Calsidyrose, via Creative Commons 2.0